I’ve been known to use the word surreal when I’m describing some of what passes for politics in Hungary to people who’ve never been here. The reaction to the latest Coca-Cola Equal Love ad campaign being a case in point.
You might accuse me of using the word incorrectly, but surely surreal is the only way to describe a situation whereby C-C runs a billboard campaign showing same-sex couples with the hastag#LoveisLove and an anti-abortion group collects 25 000 signatures on a petition to have those same billboards removed.
I went to the dictionary on this:
- having the qualities of surrealism; bizarre.“a surreal mix of fact and fantasy”Synonyms: unreal, bizarre, unusual, weird, strange, freakish, unearthly, uncanny, dreamlike, phantasmagorical
I’m so upset by the reaction to this campaign that I can’t even bring myself to write about it. Others have, though, if you’re interested.
Segueing into the topic of Surrealism, we recently visited the current exhibition at the National Gallery: The Surrealist Movement from Dalí to Magritte – Crisis and Rebirth in 1929. I had a vague notion that Surrealism was an art movement spearheaded by Salvador Dalí and involving other notables like Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró who painted mad pictures. This narrow scope broadened considerably when I read that it is a
a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature which sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.
While the paintings were interesting, I’ll hold up my hand and say that with very few exceptions, I’d not be hanging any of them in my living room, regardless of how many millions they’re worth.
I’d make an exception for René Magritte’s The Red Model, which I found enthralling. I read an interpretation of the piece and it gave me quite a headache. What came to mind when I first saw it was what life would be like if man were reared for the materials others could harvest from him. Bizzare? Yes.
With work by Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Yves Tanguy, René Magritte, Pablo Picasso and Francis Picabia, the exhibition is well worth a visit. Organised in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the MNG is certainly on a winner with this one.
Another exception I’d make is for Dalí’s Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Waking. I could look at this for hours and see new things in it every time. There’s a Hungarian illustrator to whom I’m quite partial … Papp Norbert. His stuff makes me think, too. So much to see in it that it’s like having a book on your wall with each viewing a new page.
Picasso’s Running Minotaurus was one of the more popular pieces, in that it had a lot of traffic. People lingered and looked and whispered in hushed tones bestowing on it a reverence that escaped me. Feeling my ignorance in my lack of appreciation, I had to read more. Apparently, Picasso had a thing for Minotaurs.
‘If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a Minotaur.’
Each to their own, I say.
If I had to pick one from all those exhibited, my pick would be this one by Pierre Roy. It seems to be one of a two-piece set – Une Journee a la Campagne. And I think, more than any of the others, this best captures my idea of surrealism. And it reminded me a lot of what Elizabeth Handy does with portrait photography.
The art was quite something but for me, the surrealist photography was even more interesting. Images by Man Ray and Hungarian photographers Brassaï and André Kertész would find a home in my hallway any day.
The exhibition runs until October and is well worth taking the time to visit. Despite my tangible ignorance of the art world, and my apparent inability to understand the greatness of some of its players, I continue to explore it. I don’t have to like what I see; for me, it’s about making the effort to understand. As deputy head of the MNG, György Szűc is on record as saying:
Many of those pictures are integral parts of our visual culture but were radical agents of change at the time of their creation.
And this in a weird way brings me back to the CC campaign – that it could be seen as radical, as promoting homosexuality over heterosexuality – is truly bizarre.